BLACK CHRISTMAS was not screened in advance of our print deadline, but a review will appear here next week and can be found on our Web site at

WE ARE MARSHALL On a rainy November night in 1970, West Virginia’s Marshall University football team, along with coaches, parents and university boosters, were on their way home from a North Carolina road game when their chartered jet clipped a tree and crashed into a hillside less than a minute before its scheduled landing. All 75 people onboard were killed. We Are Marshall begins there and goes on to tell how Marshall, under the stewardship of newly installed head coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey, in one of his best performances), and with the mixed blessings of a community still reeling from loss, rebuilt its football program in time for the 1971 season. If that sounds like the setup for yet another tale of a scrappy underdog’s triumph over the odds, think again: The only miracle about Marshall’s 1971 season — the midpoint of a two-decade-long losing streak for the school — is that it happened at all. And while I can’t say for sure if Marshall president Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) really traveled to NCAA headquarters in a blinding rainstorm to beg for special dispensation to let freshmen play on the re-formed team, or if there was a bright-eyed young tyke sitting in the stands of every practice that season, looking on with quiet awe, it sure makes for one hell of a good story. The director, McG, whose work on the two Charlie’s Angels pictures was like that of a hyperactive child begging for your attention, proceeds here with an almost classical restraint. He wants to evoke the mythical virtues of small heartland towns where everyone gathers at the local diner and young people are optimistic and incapable of believing there’s any bad in the world. McG’s Marshall lies at the nexus of Thornton Wilder and Norman Rockwell — it’s David Lynch without the irony — and if he overdoes things a touch, there’s nothing disingenuous about it. The whole movie is like a suburban California kid’s dream of the faraway “real” America, and every lump it puts in your throat is fully earned. He’s made a sports movie that’s less interested in wins and losses than in how people grieve and how, in times of crisis, something as simple as a weekly football game can provide a necessary reminder that life goes on. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

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